#GlobalJustice Weekly: Civilian deaths rise in Syria and Iraq | Holocaust commemorations begin

Holocaust Commemoration Exhibit Outside UN Headquarters © United Nations

Civilian deaths increase in Syria and Iraq war  

The US-led coalition against ISIS may be responsible for around 6,000 civilian deaths during operations to recapture the densely populated cities of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria in 2017, according to reporting by watchdog Airwars. 

Last year's civilian casualities due to all coalition strikes - including forces from the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Turkey, Jordan, the Netherlands, Australia and Denmark - reportedly increased by 200% compared to 2016, around three times higher than that given by U.S. Central Command of 817 civilian deaths. 

While the Pentagon claimed the coalition does “everything within its power to limit harm to noncombatants and civilian infrastructure,” International actors have questioned whether adequate precautions were undertaken to minimise civilian casualties.

U.S President Trump this year announced that he had “changed the rules” of the military. "What we still don’t fully understand is how many more civilians were harmed as a result of fairly significant changes that the Trump administration says it put in place,” said head of Airwars Chris Woods.

Meanwhile, the UN Human Right Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein condemned the recent upsurge in civilian casualties in Eastern Ghouta in Syria, stressing that all parties are under an international legal obligation to distinguish between lawful military targets and civilians and civilian objects.

Adama Dieng, United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide and Ivan Simonovic, United Nations Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect, similarly released a statement on the issue of civilian bombing at the designated deescalation site, stating “Attacks that are indiscriminate or directly target civilians or civilian objects are a violation of fundamental principles of international humanitarian law. All actors involved in the conflict in Syria have an obligation to ensure that these fundamental principles are respected.”

The Syrian government has denied claims that it is behind the alleged use of chlorine gas on Monday in eastern Ghouta. The US has leveled reponsibility at Russia's feet after it vetoed attempts to investgate previous chemical attacks at the UN Security Council.


“Holocaust Remembrance and Education: Our Shared Responsibility”

As this year marks the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, the Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme is organizing several events to commemorate the occasion.

At a ceremony marking the day, UN Secretary General remarked that our commemoration of the events hold a dual purpose: that of remembering "the utter evil and systematic attempt to eliminate the Jewish people", and to be "ever watchful of dark clouds on the horizon".

The theme of the events will be ‘Holocaust Remembrance and Education: Our Shared Responsibility'. The event hopes to outline the lessons to be learned from the extremism of the time and genocide that followed, in the hopes that future generations will firmly reject all forms of racism, violence and anti-Semitism.

UNESCO described the events as  a way for UN Member States to acknowledge a “collective responsibility for addressing the residual trauma”, and ensure that effective remembrance policies and care for historic sites are adhered to, while promoting education and documenting of the genocide that killed more than 6 million people.

The relevance of the events are emphasised by the 70th anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide this year. Armenia's parliament passed a resolution on Tuesday recognising the 2014 genocide of Yazidis by the Islamic State group in Iraq and called for an international probe into the crimes. Rustam Makhmudyan, the Yazidi deputy of a parliamentary human rights commission, emphasized the significant importance of the resolution as it not only recognises and condemns the genocide but also calls on the international community to lead an international investigation. Nadia Murad, Yezidi survivor, activist and UN Goodwill Ambassador, also welcomed the recognition.

ICC ceremonial opening of the judicial year

The ICC last week held its first ceremonial opening of the judicial year with H.E. Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona, President of Trinidad and Tobago attending the event as the distinguished guest speaker. Over fifty judges also attended the event, representing national jurisdictions of 25 States Parties to the ICC, 8 regional or international courts, and the ICC itself.  Members of the diplomatic corps, international organisations and civil society were also present.

President of the ICC Judge Silvia Fernández de Gurmendi said that the ceremony offered  "an opportunity not only to foster understanding about the Court's work but also to engage with judges of other jurisdictions in order to exchange views and experiences in our respective functions", while H.E. Anthony Carmona recognised the ICC as the "international guarantor and guardian of the rule of law", and declared "today, as the ICC commemorates the milestones of an inauguration and an opening ceremony, the resonating themes implicit in the Court's very existence are accountability, transparency, independence, cooperation among Member States, Nation States and the universality of the Rome Statute." Watch the full speech:

The ceremony coincided with the ICC's first judicial seminar titled "Complementarity and Cooperation of Courts in an Interconnected Global Justice System", which discussed the interconnectedness of international, regional and national courts, collectively aiming as a global system to ensure the rule of law and accountability, and justice for the gravest crimes under international law.


ICC investigations

CAR: Militia-led violence has spiked in the Central African Republic, claiming more than 100 lives in the past month. Catholic bishops have condemned the atrocities, warning of 'anarchy' and a country 'sinking into the abyss'. Meanwhile, Fidh has welcomed the conviction the former Anti-Balaka warlord Rodrigue Ngaibona, or 'General Andjilo', to life in prison, and hope that the establishment of the Special Criminal Court soon will shed light on further crimes committed by the warlord.  

DRC: United Nations agencies and relief partners have launched the largest-ever funding appeal for the DRC, totalling $1.68 billion – aims to reach 10.5 million vulnerable people across the nation, where over 13 million are in need of assistance.Former Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba, who is serving an 18-year prison sentence at the ICC, has pleaded with appeals judges to lower his sentence, arguing that the nearly ten years he has spent in detention is a sufficient sentence.

The European Parliament regrets that the DRC did not hold elections by the 2017 deadline and calls on its President Joseph Kabila, and his government to guarantee to hold presidential and legislative elections on 23 December 2018. The European Parliament also urges the ICC and the UN to investigate the claims put forward by the FIDH, which says Congolese security forces and government-backed militias are perpetrating crimes against humanity in Kasai province.

Côte d'Ivoire: A court in Côte d'Ivoire has sentenced a former adviser to ex-President Laurent Gbagbo to 15 years in jail for plotting to overthrow Gbagbo’s successor, President Alassane Ouattara.


Preliminary examinations

Afghanistan: Several people were killed in an attack by the Taliban on a hotel in Kabul, which Human Rights Watch are calling a war crime deliberately targeting civilians. The attack was condemned by UN officials, including the Secretary General António Guterres and UNAMA. On Tuesday, an attack was also perpetrated against the office of Save the Children in Jalalabad, which ISIS has since taken credit for. The attacks are in the wake of a looming ICC investigation, which the Pre-Trial Chamber has yet to approve. There have been concerns  among civil society that, were the investigation to commence, the ICC would be facing a lack of cooperation on all sides. 2017 has been a difficult year for peace talks in the country, with both the Taliban and Afghan government continuing to engage in pro-peace rhetoric, while doing little to achieve it in practice.

Palestine/Israel: The Palestinian Authority has submitted a complaint with the ICC over Israeli violations against Palestinian children. The move came as Israeli authorities extended the detention of 16-year-old girl Ahed al-Tamimi for the fifth time on charges of attacking Israeli soldiers.

Campaign for global justice

The Coalition for the ICC held a meeting this week for the Network of African NGO's for Justice, read the opening speech by Ivory Coast Coalition for the ICC president Ali Ouattara here.

Families of Japanese individuals suspected to have been abducted by North Korea will urge the ICC to prosecute the country's leader Kim Jong Un as they will travel to The Hague to directly submit a petition requesting investigation into the suspected abductions of at least 100 Japanese as a case of crimes against humanity.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson discussed the Syrian conflict in a telephone call, in particular ways to bring stability to the country’s north, the Russian foreign ministry said on Sunday.

International Crisis Groups have prepared guidelines for the upcoming African Union bi-annual summit taking place at the end of January. The guidelines include advance preparations for elections in the DRC, deploy observation teams well in advance of other critical elections such as Mali, implementing the new AU roadmap in Central African Republic and reshaping South Sudan’s stabilisation strategy.

TRIAL International has published a report 'Rape Myths in Wartime Sexual Violence Trials – Transferring the Burden from Survivor to Perpetrator' in order to combat rape myths in the courtroom and to make it easier for victims to participate in legal proceedings and obtain the redress they are due.

A new report entitled Achieving Justice for Gross Human Rights Violations in Myanmar by The International Commission of Jurists calls on Myanmar's government to take action  on military impunity for gross human rights violations.


Around the world

Croatian President, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, who was on a two-day official visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina last week, stopped at two villages to pay tribute to war victims of the Croat-Bosniak conflict in 1993.

Britain has said it was closely monitoring a ceasefire agreed last month between South Sudan’s warring parties and would work with regional partners to identify individuals guilty of violations and take action